Sunday, September 25, 2011

A True Princess

A True Princess by Diane Zahler combines several tales and Faerie lore to tell the story of a princess and a quest. It is not one I found particularly enjoyable but is a book that would probably find a home in the hands of young princess and fairy tale enthusiasts.

Synopsis: (From Goodreads):
Twelve-year-old Lilia is not a very good servant. In fact, she's terrible! She daydreams, she breaks dishes, and her cooking is awful. Still, she hardly deserves to be sold off to the mean-spirited miller and his family. Refusing to accept that dreadful fate, she decides to flee. With her best friend, Kai, and his sister, Karina, beside her, Lilia heads north to find the family she's never known. But danger awaits. . . .As their quest leads the threesome through the mysterious and sinister Bitra Forest, they suddenly realize they are lost in the elves' domain. To Lilia's horror, Kai falls under an enchantment cast by the Elf King's beautiful daughter. The only way for Lilia to break the spell and save Kai is to find a jewel of ancient power that lies somewhere in the North Kingdoms. Yet the jewel will not be easy to find. The castle where it is hidden has been overrun with princess hopefuls trying to pass a magical test that will determine the prince's new bride. Lilia has only a few days to search every inch of the castle and find the jewel—or Kai will be lost to her forever.

The is a book that sounded tailor made for me so I was rather disappointed at not enjoying it. There were elements of the book I enjoyed. The writing is descriptive and the northern European setting with the Northern Lights was interesting. Lilia is a brave heroine and a loyal friend. There are heroic knights, a handsome prince, and the whole "boy next door" storyline. I liked that while Lilia was the princess who passed the test the outcome revealed was far different than in "The Princess and the Pea".

So what was my problem?

This is a reworking of "The Princess and the Pea" but it also contains Goethe's "The Elf King" (in the form of actual stanzas from the poem) and has elements of Anderson's "The Snow Queen". Plus the lore of Odin's Hunt is thrown in for good measure. Both "The Elf King" and "The Snow Queen" are dark and perilous stories. This book is not dark or perilous in anyway.  Goethe's Elf King is scary. That poem packs a punch and the villain in this book comes nowhere close to doing it justice. His daughter is vain, spoiled, petulant and childish nowhere near as forbidding (or seductive) as Anderson's Snow Queen. I just don't think the novel did the source material justice and adds nothing to it.

Lilia and Kai have a very sweet friendship/flirtation going on (paralleling the relationship of Gerda and Kai in Anderson's tale), except Kai is far more an innocent victim in this version and I didn't find him to be that interesting.. The romance between Prince Tycho and Karina was rather shallow. It was, look how noble he appears+look how beautiful she is=LOVE. Blech.

My final complaint was in the idea that Lilia couldn't function properly as a serving maid because she was born a princess. I'm sorry, the girl couldn't make decent porridge because princesses are inherently bad at cooking? Kai says this to her toward the end: "You were a bad servant to Ylva because you were a princess." No. No. No. She should have worked her lazy self harder and learned how to make decent porridge or sew better, or dust better. I really didn't have much respect for Lilia's character despite her bravery because she really didn't try to overcome her weaknesses. I prefer stories that show that it is how we act and not how we are born that define us as people.

The book is short, only 184 pages, and very tame. I think it would appeal most to girls in the 8-10 age range.

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